Barr's Irn-Bru - Supporting Scottish Football

The Real Reason Why No One Hires John Barnes As A Manager

John_Barnes-Manager

I don’t dislike John Barnes, actually I quite like him. He’s one of the better ex-footballers that can do TV punditry. As a player he was an amazing winger!

The one time we’ve shared a corridor, John Barnes was nice enough to smile and nod to me, as he could see I had obviously recognised him.

I fully agree that race shouldn’t be a factor when someone goes for a job. I also don’t doubt that people of ethnicity struggle in football to get the top appointments. I’d love the securing of managerial roles to become more transparent.

But none of those are reasons for John being currently unemployed.

The fact no one wants to hire him as a football manager is simply because he isn’t a great boss and it has nothing to do with his race, in my opinion.

I was a keen observer when Barnes was hired at Celtic in 1999. He was the head coach, while former Liverpool teammate and Celtic legend Kenny Dalglish was hired as his Director of Football. The partnership was christened the ‘dream team‘ by the Scottish media.

But Barnes was sacked by the end of February in 2000, with the Hoops trailing Rangers heavily in the league and Celtic suffering an infamous home Scottish Cup defeat to First Division part-times Inverness Caley Thistle, Celtic lost the game 3-1 and The Sun came up with the great headline “Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious”. 

His time in Glasgow was full of poor results, bad performances and tactical naivety.

Barnes was also unlucky at Parkhead,  talismanic striker Henrik Larsson was injured early on in the season (due to a horrific leg break) and his replacement (Ian Wright) didn’t match expectations.

Barnes had the idea of implementing a high risk attacking strategy but those strategies didn’t suit the Scottish game and seemed to confuse his players.

The signings made by the Barnes/Dalglish partnership failed to catch the supporters imagination or move the club on, save Bobby Petta and Stan Petrov. Big money signings like Rafael Scheidt (£5m) and Eyal Berkovic flopped. Scheidt’s Celtic career is remembered for his surname rather than any significant performance. Berkovic (who was a then Scottish record buy at £5.75m) seemed to be more of a hinderance than a guiding light.

By the time he left, John had totally lost the support of his players. It was suggested that he was openly mocked by certain club personnel. According to Barnes, striker Mark Viduka refused to go out for the second half against Caley Thistle. That moment of contempt seemed to sum up John’s tenure in charge at Celtic Park.

The Celtic job was probably too big for Barnes, especially as it was his first. He has since hinted that he wasn’t given enough time and that race may have played a part in it.

But let me assure you, Barnes had lost the dressing room and that home defeat to Caley was the most humiliating Celtic home loss I’d seen in my years of watching Scottish football. There was no surviving that!

Plus look at Dalglish, he didn’t last much longer and he was a club legend. The squad wasn’t that bad, yet they just weren’t getting the right results or performances on the park.

Also Celtic were very proud that they were one of the very first premier clubs (if not the first) in the UK to hire a black head coach. They also spent a lot to try and give Barnes the best chance possible.

Barnes would then have to wait until 2008 for his next job, when he was appointed coach of the Jamaican national team. He seemed to start off well there but departed after only six months, stating he wanted a full-time role in club management. Leaving a job so hastily doesn’t reflect well on your CV and its suggests a lack of loyalty.

Then Barnes found himself at Prenton Park, when he was announced as the new manager of Tranmere Rovers in the summer of 2009.

He was again sacked, this time after only three full months in charge. He had lost eight of his first twelve games and won just three. Again his man-management skills and tactics were called into question. The fact that Tranmere had just missed out on the play-offs just a few months before and were now languishing at the foot of the League One table, shows how badly Barnes had done with Rovers.

Along with his Tranmere assistant Jason McAteer, the pair were dubbed ‘dumb and dumber’ by his players. When they constantly lost the manager would blame his team for lacking simple organisation skills, when it was clear they were dumbfounded by his reckless 4-2-2-2 formation.

Now when you look back at John Barnes the football manager, you don’t think of his race (or at least you shouldn’t!). You think of a boss that lost his dressing room in the two club jobs that he had and a manager who could never find a proper formation that players bought into.

Now John I suggest you look in the mirror and look past your skin colour. The fact is this, you have had three jobs as a football manager and you’ve disappointed in all of them! Sometimes great players just aren’t cut out to become great managers just ask Alan Shearer and Hristo Stoichkov!

Do Chelsea Really Need Raphael Varane?

Raphael_Varane_

It’s only natural for Chelsea to be heavily linked with Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane.

Current Blues boss Jose Mourinho gave Varane his debut at the Bernabeu in 2011. Now three and a half years later, Raphael is still struggling to break the defensive partnership of Pepe and Sergio Ramos at Los Blancos.

At the age of twenty-one and about to finish his fourth season in La Liga, Varane undoubtably wants regular first team football. Especially when you figure in that France host the Euros in 2016. The young centre-back is already a key man for Didier Deschamps’ Les Bleus side and will want to cement his place next summer.

But even though he’s a Mourinho prodigy, do Chelsea really need to sign Raphael Varane? 

I suppose as with most big transfer stories before the window reopens, there are quite a lot of if’s, buts and maybes.

Club captain John Terry has just extended his contract by another year at Stamford Bridge. The thirty-four year old can’t play on forever but he has once again excelled this season. Some will say that next term will be one that Jose decides to rest Terry more but that remains to be seen.

Terry’s usual defensive partner Gary Cahill is twenty-nine years old. Terry has always been very complimentary about Englishman Cahill and recently stated…

“Gaz [Gary Cahill] has been different class since he came in and again I have struck up a relationship with him on and off the field like I did with Willie (William Gallas) and Riccy (Ricardo Carvalho).”

But you get the feeling Jose isn’t fully convinced about Cahill’s qualities. He dropped the centre-back for the Liverpool League Cup semi-final game, with Mourinho preferring the pacey Kurt Zouma. The fact Chelsea conceded from a set-piece against PSG due to Cahill and Terry mistakenly marking each other didn’t help Cahill’s cause for playing in the really big games.

That said, Cahill has won the League Cup, the FA Cup, the Europa League and the Champions League whilst at Stamford Bridge. Jose likes loyalty and winners, Gary Cahill’s CV represents both of these.

Then you have Kurt Zouma. He’s a a year younger than Varane and along with Raphael, he’s seen as the bright future of French football. Zouma is currently the fastest central defender on Chelsea’s books and has learned a lot by just sitting on the bench and watching Cahill and Terry most weeks. When he has came in, he’s not really let himself down and is now determined to force his way into the side more often.

Although when Kurt partnered Cahill in the 4-2 home defeat to Bradford City in the FA Cup, that might have worried Jose.

So would Varane arriving just stall Zouma’s flourishing Chelsea career? 

Both are exciting prospects, although Varane is more accomplished at this time. You can’t see both playing regularly together at club level next season, if they are in the same squad. Plus they share the same attributes; both like playing on their right-side, both can take the ball out of defence, both can be physical and both have vast amounts of speed to burn.

I’d imagine youngsters Tomas Kalas and Andreas Christensen would be loaned out if the French internationalist signed on from Real Madrid.

But that would still leave Varane challenging three other strong centre-backs for just two positions. I would imagine the whole point in leaving Real would be to get guaranteed first team football elsewhere. Can Jose give him that guarantee at Chelsea?

Would it not be better for Raphael to go to either of the Manchester clubs? Who’ll both be on the lookout for new central defenders this summer? 

If Carlo Ancelotti were to leave Real in the summer, who is to say that the new coach of the ‘Galacticos’ wouldn’t want to keep Varane? 

You then have to figure in the price tag.

The £40m fee reported at the moment is extremely steep for a defender who isn’t a first team regular at his current club, especially in these days of Financial Fair Play.

Chelsea are also being linked with Gareth Bale. So would they really want to spend £130m on two Madrid players in one summer? They usually work the transfer market better than that these days.

Maybe they’d sell Oscar, if they knew they were getting Bale. But with the talent they already have at the back would it make sense in forking out £40m on Varane? Although I’d imagine the fee would be closer to £30m-£35m.

Plus they’ll need to bring in a new number two keeper and possibly another back-up striker. I’d also suggest getting another holding midfielder if they can finally get John Obi Mikel off the books too.

Now I see the appeal in getting Varane. Mourinho gushed about him during his stint in charge of the Bernabeu. He was never afraid of playing the youngster and was often rewarded with fine performances. But he seems to be building the same kind of bond with Kurt Zouma. Would he risk Zouma’s progress just to be reunited with a similar type of player?

For all that I think Raphael Varane is on his way to becoming one of the world’s best centre-backs, I just can’t see him signing for Chelsea and for that deal to make sense. Unless Jose Mourinho has a master-plan that I just can’t fathom.

I’d hate to see one of Zouma or Varane’s careers stalling at this vital stage!

Red-Faced Winners Scotland Need To Refocus After Mistake

IMG_5426

We wouldn’t be Scotland if we didn’t slip up against group minnows Gibraltar. Thankfully the embarrassment of conceding to Gibraltar’s first ever competitive goal didn’t and won’t comeback to haunt us!

You can see what Gordon Strachan was trying to do with his formation and starting line-up but it was pretty naive and you felt that it could cause our defensive department problems.

Playing three at the back is fine but not needed against a newly qualified UEFA member. So Strachan tried to do something a bit more radical and have one centre-half and two fullbacks. His captain Scott Brown was the selected to sit ahead of Russell Martin (Scotland’s centre-half).

Now the issues arose because in Andrew Robertson and Alan Hutton you have two very attack minded fullbacks. Because they were playing lowly Gibraltar they felt they could bomb forward whenever they wanted.

Scott Brown has been used as a holding midfielder at Celtic, but he’s often partnered with Nir Biton ahead of the Celtic defence. That means that Brown has more license to go forward and that if he steps forward he has someone on hand to help him out.

So against Gibraltar, at times early on in the first half at Hampden it was often just Russell Martin back by himself. Now that isn’t the worst thing in the world if the others around him could sense danger and snuff it out and get back to help out when needed.

In that formation you also need players like Ikechi Anya, Shaun Maloney, Matt Ritchie and James Morrison to burst a gut to get back when required.

As the Scots struggled to get used to their new system, Gibraltar took heart from the Scotland’s sloppy passing and ineffective attacking play.

The men from the Mediterranean Rock started to go forward and gave Scotland a shock when they nearly took the lead in the seventh minute. Joseph Chipolina’s cross come shot almost sneaked past David Marshall, who was madly back peddling before the clawing the ball away from his goal-line.

That should have been the wake up call for Scotland’s defence. Alan Hutton was caught nonchalantly walking back and that’s where the danger came from. Brown also didn’t come across and cover effectively.

Scotland then got off the mark themselves on the eighteenth minute, when Gibraltar’s goalkeeper decided to fly into Shaun Maloney when the ball was going out of play. Maloney dusted himself down and scored from the resulting penalty.

That opening goal should have settled the nerves of the Tartan Army but alas this is Scotland and Strachan’s gung-ho tactics would be exposed by the mainly part-time opposition within ninety seconds of the restart.

Gibraltar broke upfield and while Andrew Robertson (who seemed shell-shocked for much of the opening half) had tucked inside he allowed Lee Casciaro plenty of space on the left. A nice ball cut across the Hampden turf into the area that Casciaro was running into. Ikechi Anya was caught daydreaming and even his pace couldn’t see him make up the ground and Hampden was silenced as the Gibraltarian policeman  struck the ball expertly past Marshall.

The fact is Gibraltar deserved that goal and Scotland deserved to concede it!

Now Scotland would then retake the lead and go into the break four goals to one up. The attacking players finally started to tick and create many chances. Striker Steven Fletcher finally ended a forty-six year wait for a Scottish hattrick.

Strachan would start the second half, with the formation that should of started the game with. He brought on another central defender in Gordon Greer and they played with a attacking 4-1-3-2.

For me, that’s how we should have started. That or have Darren Fletcher partnering Brown ahead of Martin.

The starting tactics were grossly enthusiastic and seemed to confuse our players more than anything else. Our opening goals were more because of the mistakes that they made rather than what we created for ourselves.

Scotland proved that when pressed that the Gibraltarian’s were prone to become rushed and make mistakes, yet we didn’t press them enough in all areas of the park.

We got the three points and that’s all that matters. Scotland finished the fixture six-one winners. Yet as Scots we still think of that one more than the six.

Hopefully it’s a timely slip that gets the Scottish players and management team refocused. We have only lost twice in the last twelve months (Away to World Champions Germany & in a friendly against England). In the same time frame we’ve now won five and drawn two!

As a nation we are currently optimistic and that feeling has been a long time coming. But in a group where Germany, Poland and Ireland are equally on-form and Scotland can’t afford to become complacent.

Gordon Strachan needs to remind his players that errors can cost us our plans of going to France next summer. He now has a great example to point to and make sure his side don’t do that in Dublin come the end of the season.

Saluting Hearts You’ve Runaway With The Championship

Hearts

First off, let me apologise, I was meant to write this blog article sooner.

CONGRATULATIONS TO HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN FOR WINNING THE SCOTTISH CHAMPIONSHIP!

Last May, I came out and said that the Scottish Championship would be entertaining , fascinating and it will be extremely tight at the top.

Well as Meatloaf says ‘two out of three ain’t bad’.

The tight bit was obviously wrong with the Jambos winning the league by a country-mile and have been declared champions before we hit April. They have left Rangers and Hibs in their dust as they took on every challenge and easily surpassed every expectation.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve developed a bit of a footballing crush with Hearts owner Ann Budge. The lady has been a breath of fresh air in the Scottish game. She talks sense, gives praises where its due and criticism when its needed.

I don’t seem to be the only one who’s taken a liking to Ms Budge. Sir Alex Ferguson gushed about Ann on Hearts TV

‘The job that Ann Budge has done has not only regenerated the club but it’s given everyone a lift in sense of the ambition is back in the club, they’re back in the Premier League.’
‘They’ve won the Championship by 20-something points, it’s a phenomenal number of points and I’m delighted for them. I’m really proud of the job that Ann Budge has done.’
‘I think it is onwards and upwards,’

Budge came in and raised quite a few eyebrows when she announced the departure of Gary Locke as Hearts manager. At the time it seemed extremely harsh on Locke who had been a terrific servant to the club and had usually worked with an arm tied behind his back due to previous regimes mismanagement of the football club.

But Ann Budge came in and was ruthless. She needed to be and her new management structure of Craig Levein as Director of Football and Robbie Neilson as Head Coach has been a masterstroke for Hearts this season.

I thought Levein would have been overly active in the press and within first team affairs but to be fair to the former Scotland boss he’s worked his role perfectly. He will no doubt give Robbie advice when asked but his main objectives seem to be providing Neilson with a good squad of players and to make sure all of the clubs footballing operations run smoothly. He has reached every goal in his debut season in that capacity.

Robbie Neilson has been tremendous with a squad full of young talent with a smattering of experienced pros too. The thirty-four year old ex-Scotland internationalist has taken to coaching like a duck to water and has been superb in preparing his roster of players.

This Hearts team play with little to no fear and play attacking and exciting football. Robbie has watched as his side cantered towards the league title, only suffering one league defeat in their opening twenty-nine fixtures. Already this season they have scored eighty-four times and they still have seven games remaining. The team have also only conceded eighteen times, a great feat for experienced goalie Neil Alexander.

Budge certainly knows that Robbie Neilson is a great Hearts boss in the making. After the title triumph she said this…

“Robbie is an intelligent young man and I hope he realises that staying with us a bit longer is exactly what he needs to really get his career moving.”

Obviously the players at Tynecastle deserve special credit too.

As I’ve mentioned Alexander has been in fine form in between the sticks. Captain Danny Wilson has been a rock in the heart of defence and will hope he can get back into the Scotland side next term.

Scottish youth players James Keatings and Jamie Walker have been superb, both netting eleven goals apiece in the Championship. Newsboys Genero Zeefuik and Osman Sow have been helping in front of goal too and are the kind of canny foreign buys that you’d associate with Levein.

To be fair the list of players that have impressed in a maroon jersey this season is pretty huge, almost never-ending!

To watch the club get over the recent financial meltdown and their relegation from the top flight has been superb. They have become more fan friendly, the supporters are rightfully at the heart of the club again. The clubs new direction is all about fairness and no room for reckless behaviour, that Vladimir Romanov was accused of during his era at the club’s helm.

Heart of Midlothian have a rich and deep history. That becomes ever more significant during the bad times and the sad times, like the death of club legend Dave Mackay, because the club rallies round and everyone supporters each other for the benefit of the football club and what it continues to stand for.

Yes running away with the Championship has been an amazing achievement. Beating Rangers and Hibs is of course wonderful for every Jambo.

But the biggest achievement, for me, is the simple fact that Hearts are still here, the whole club have come together and they are once again looking up and on to a brighter future!

Steven Fletcher Isn’t Worthy Of Scots Starting Place

Hampden

Scotland edged out Northern Ireland 1-0 in a friendly that was played out at Hampden on Wednesday night.

The game brought up a few talking points.

For me, one topic that has to be looked at is the continued presence of Steven Fletcher in the Scotland staring eleven.

Against the Northern Irish team, Fletcher picked up his nineteenth cap. Yet only once in those nineteen games has Fletcher managed to score for his country. That game came in a 2-1 win against Iceland… Back in 2009!

He’s shown good pedigree before with the Under-21’s and the Under-19s. Steven has also scored a decent amount in the English Premier League (EPL) but this season he only has four goals in twenty-eight appearances for Sunderland. He hasn’t hit double figures in the EPL since the 2012/13 season.

Yes the striker has been a bit unfortunate with injuries and managerial changes at his club. Plus when he was at his peak in the EPL he was in a self-imposed international exile during the Craig Levein years, so he wasn’t playing for Scotland never mind scoring for them during his time inform.

As the main striker, he needs to offer more of a goal threat. At the moment he’s not getting noticed by either winger and also seems to struggle to link-up with the player that’s playing off him. His runs aren’t intelligent enough and when he does get into decent areas inside the box he’s snatching at chances. Fletcher is also prone to hitting tame efforts from distance as the game carries on, mainly due to frustration.

The former Hibs striker does put in a shift but does it without doing enough in the right areas and he quickly fades away from games.

Now the fact he plays in England’s top flight shouldn’t make him an automatic starter. Steven Fletcher is out of form and out of ideas at the moment.

Unfortunately Scot’s boss Gordon Strachan hasn’t got much options.

He could start with Naismith up-top and have him make smart runs in between defenders. Then keep Shaun Maloney in behind the Everton man. But against Gibraltar it might be better to have a more prolific goalscorer lead the line and have Naismith in behind him.

So for me, Strachan should start with Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes. 

The twenty-five year old already has more international goals, in fewer appearances, than Fletcher (Rhodes has 11 caps & 3 goals). In the Championship this term he has scored sixteen goals. In his last nine Blackburn Rovers outings, Rhodes has hit the net six times!

The forward is in form and surely given the right service he’ll be able to get a couple against Gibraltar, who are still finding their feet at international level.

Some in the Tartan Army will suggest that the Gibraltar game could be an ideal opportunity for Fletcher to rediscover his goalscoring touch but based on previous displays in a Scotland jersey, I just can’t say he merits a starting berth on Sunday.

I am not totally discounting Fletcher for Scotland, I just think he needs to start more for Sunderland and score there first. Against the likes of Gibraltar we need to play our form players.

What else did we learn from the Northern Ireland game? 

1. Matt Ritchie:

Well Matt Ritchie needs time to adapt to a step-up in terms of playing international football. His corner set-up the goal but he did little else during the ninety minutes. But it can be difficult on your debut, when you are learning everyones name and the teams formation/style.

I think playing with Steven Whittaker just behind him, did Ritchie no favours. Whittaker seemed to be confused by the Bournemouth man’s runs and the full-backs passing was pretty woeful, particularly in the first period. I’d imagine an Alan Hutton Matt Ritchie partnership would be more potent as Hutton thrives off of wingers that cut inside and give him plenty of space to overlap.

2. Craig Forsyth: 

The Derby County man is another player still learning the international ropes. But Craig did well when called upon in this game and seemed to offer a good working partnership with Ikechi Anya down the lefthand side.

A much better back up for that left-back role than Whittaker if Andrew Robertson is missing.

3. Christophe Berra: 

The central defender is still capable at this level. He is also a great target to have at set-pieces. Scored the winner tonight but has also impressed with his five goals for Ipswich Town this season.

Might offer more of a threat against Gibraltar than Gordon Greer if we are looking at set-pieces to get breakthroughs.

4. David Marshall is number one: 

With Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor getting a half each, it looks ever more likely that Cardiff City’s David Marshall is Strachan’s number one choice in between the sticks.

Marshall has started all of the qualifiers so far in this campaign and I would imagine that will continue this Sunday against the groups minnows.

5. Scotland have an embarrassment of riches in midfield: 

Any two of Scott Brown, Darren Fletcher, James McArthur or James Morrison could play in the heart of midfield for Scotland and we’d still do well.

All four are having fine seasons with their clubs and the competition for places is only a good thing for the Tartan Army. It’s great to see Darren Fletcher back in the Scotland side and dictating play, he never looked flustered against Northern Ireland.

British And Spanish Press Take Biased Sides Over Bale Battle

Gareth_Bale

It’s funny how a dream can turn into a nightmare so quickly.

Everything for Gareth Bale looked so rosy under a year ago. He was grinning from ear to ear with a Champions League medal and Spanish Cup medal dangling around his neck. He was a hero at Real Madrid, having scored in both finals against rivals Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.

Bale also enjoyed a fine start to the 2014/15 season with Real. But he would suffer a thigh injury in October and the team continued to do well. In fact the team did equally well when he returned to it. Gareth would score in another final as he helped ‘Los Blancos’ defeat San Lorenzo in the World Club Cup Final in Morocco on the twentieth of December.

The problems didn’t arise until the turn of the year. Real lost their opening two fixtures of 2015 and Atletico put them out of the Spanish Cup. In the La Liga defeat to Valencia, Bale was told off by Karim Benzema for wasting a chance to give the Frenchman an easy goal.

Real Madrid would then return to winning ways against Espanyol but that win would be marred by star-man Cristiano Ronaldo screaming out in frustration as Bale went with a shot rather than passing to the Portuguese wizard. The Madrid fans then decided to jeer the Welshman. Forgetting that Bale had already scored in the game and that they were winning comfortably.

That act of petulance from Ronaldo, especially on the back of the Benzema fall-out was enough to turn the ‘Los Blancos’ fans against Gareth Bale believing him to be selfish and lazy.

He is now widely jeered and booed by those in the Bernabeu stands. The ‘Galacticos’ are now trailing Barca by four points in the league.

They squared up against the Catalan giants last weekend and were undone by a 2-1 scoreline. Again Bale was seen as the scapegoat, one in which the fans want to see punished by dropping him from the line-up.

Yes Bale’s impact in the second half of the El Clasico was limited but we all seem to forget that he scored a goal, which was ultimately disallowed because golden-boy Cristiano Ronaldo had failed to stay onside. Supposed Real Madrid fans would be seen after the game attacking Bale’s car as he headed home from the clubs training ground.

The whole saga has both the Spanish and the British press in a frenzy. Both are hugely biased and are poles apart in their stance.

In Spain they go with the fans and have characterised Bale as the greedy foreigner who is now destabilising the capital club.

They no longer see him as untouchable and headlines crowing… ‘He scored the winner in the Spanish Cup final; he scored the winner in the Champions League final. He is already a Real Madrid legend,’… seem to be a distant memory.

The Madrid heavy papers like Marca and AS have been running polls from fans demanding Bale’s removal from the Real Madrid side. According to one, 70% of 8000 fans wanted to see Gareth dropped!

In return the British press have hit back in defence of the Welsh forward, stating certain Spanish led articles miss out certain stats just to use the bad stats to attack the player with. A tactic the British media have used in the past to be fair.

Papers such as the Daily Mail will be the first to come out with the fact that Bale has won four trophies since his arrival in Spain.

They’ll also point to Ronaldo and make out he is actually the villain of the piece.

Most will forget that in the UK, Bale was written off back in his early left-back days at Spurs. They had him down as a disappointment that had failed to live up to the potential too.

Also let’s not forget that places like The Sun and SKY will be actively wetting themselves at the prospect of getting Bale back to the English Premier League. So they highlight the problems and show him as much support as possible, they did the same with Jose Mourinho during his stint at the Bernabeu.

It’s funny as both sides have merits to their arguments and are equally let down by their biased reporting.

They don’t seem to get down to the heart of the issues.

Now Ronaldo is a problem for Bale if he is an enemy. His actions against Espanyol certainly didn’t help but that’s Ronaldo for you, he is always moaning or celebrating, he doesn’t seem to have a neutral button.

When you look at the amazing unbeaten run it included various personnel, formations and tactics. No one player can be blamed for the demise of that run and certainly not one incident (Benzema chance). A team like Real can’t rely on just one chance to win a game.

For me, the timing of the run ending is the significant element here. They lost after returning from Morocco and winning the World Club Cup. They were on an ultimate high and then had to come down and play a La Liga match against Valencia, who didn’t lose a game in December. One team was up for it and ready, while the other side wasn’t. It can be that simple.

Bale has still impressed this term with sixteen goals in all competitions. Only Benzema and, of course, Ronaldo have scored more. That said Bale seems to get the important ones!

Bale has also contributed with six assists. That could be the most damning fact of all as he is behind Ronaldo, Benzema, James Rodriguez, Isco, Marcelo and Toni Kroos. See at Real in this era, all things are geared towards setting up Cristiano and the others seem to do that more than Bale, which turns him into the easy target.

The whole squad has been in a decline this year, Gareth has to accept that too. Yes he’s been picked out but that comes with the world record transfer fee!

The fact is that football fans are an extremely fickle bunch (as are the press at times). They forget the past glories. They choose not to see that Bale will be in his peak in three years time, while Ronaldo could be over the hill. They are all about the present!

If Gareth Bale is going to turn them back in his favour then I suggest he doesn’t read the papers (Spanish or British) and just gets his head down and scores more goals and maybe looking-up and setting up Cristiano a few times.

Just let your football do the talking.

Could Petr Cech In At Liverpool?

Petr_Čech

Goalkeeper Petr Cech has intimated that he is ready to quit Chelsea in the summer as he wishes to play more first team football.

Cech told Czech newspaper Idnes when discussing this season…

‘I don’t want another one like this.’

You can see why the Czech international would become a frustrated figure at Stamford Bridge. He was the Chelsea number one in his first ten years at the club and now he’s very much playing number two to Belgian Thibaut Courtois.

Courtois has been fantastic this season and at twenty-two he’s ten years younger than Cech, so he’s unlikely to be going anywhere or declining in quality.

At thirty-two, Petr is far from past it as a top-class goalkeeper. He has been limited to just five league appearances this season, yet he’s kept a clean-sheet in all of them. He was also first-choice for the London side in the League Cup run that would see the ‘Blues’ lift the trophy on the first of March. Cech also kept a clean-sheet in that final victory over city rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Although Cech did concede four against League One side Bradford City in the FA Cup. Not his or his teammates finest hour.

So you’d imagine a big chase could be on to sign Petr Cech. But timing might not be on the keepers side.

Real Madrid might be an option but only if they can’t persuade David de Gea to leave Manchester United.

If Real can bring in De Gea, would Man United be an option? I doubt it, they already have a readymade replacement in Victor Valdes at the club.

Arsenal have been mentioned but can you really see Jose Mourinho selling to Arsene Wenger? Especially a player with Cech’s qualities?

Barcelona already have two goalkeepers and have to serve a transfer ban. Juventus have Gianluigi Buffon, while PSG have Salvatore Sirigu. Bayern Munich obviously have Manuel Neuer.

Monaco don’t seem to splash the cash like they did back in 2013. Both Milan clubs aren’t quite rolling in money and are certainly not in the same successful eras that they once were.

The one team that I can see that could be on the lookout for a new keeper, would be Liverpool.

Liverpool’s current number one Simon Mignolet is a bit of a mix bag.

The Belgian may have impressed since the turn of the year but 2014 was one to forget for Mignolet. Yes he is a great shot-stopper but he doesn’t command his area and doesn’t enthuse ‘Reds’ fans, former pros or media pundits.

Czech number one Petr is a class above Mignolet.

Cech would offer Liverpool more stability and would instil the defence with extra confidence. Petr has seen it all before and always coped.

He’s also a winner. The goalie has helped Chelsea win three league titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, a Europa League and a Champions League.

If Liverpool could convince Jose Mourinho to sell Cech then they would be getting a world class keeper who would come in hungry to prove he’s still in top form. Jose’s friendship with Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers could be they key when trying to convince Chelsea in selling to a league rival.

Why would Petr Cech want to join Liverpool?

Well as I’ve already suggested, he might not have as big a choice as he’d like especially from the big European clubs.

At Anfield he’d command a good wage. Only in England will a player get a vast amount of money even at the clubs outside the ‘Top Four’. At Liverpool he’d get the opportunity to play European football again, even though that looks likely to be in Europa League.

It would also see Petr Cech stay in the English Premier League, a league that he knows well and he knows that he can excel in that environment.

The summer could be an intriguing one for the veteran goalkeeper. Liverpool should act quickly, if they really want him and try and persuade Petr Cech he can continue his winning ways with them next term!

No Need For Scotland To Have Meltdown Over Jack Harper

SFA

Type into Google ‘Jack Harper’ and there are reams of glowing stories about a Scottish youth international making his way up the ladder at Real Madrid.

Today Ricky Sbragia left out the youngster for the next batch of Scotland under-19 internationals.

How dare the well respected coach leave out a boy, that most of us have only really heard of or read about!

Sbragia, who has coached at Manchester United, Bolton and managed at Sunderland, was good enough to explain the exclusion. Basically stating that although Harper was a very good, technically gifted player, his best assets come from playing a free-role and that Scotland’s under-19s didn’t need that type of player for these particular games.

This seems to have caused outrage amongst media and Scotland fans on Twitter.

People think that Ricky has been too quick to drop the nineteen year old and that he could walk into this Scotland set-up. That going for a ‘physical side with runners’ isn’t the best option for Scotland at this level.

Now how many of these commentators actually watch Scotland’s Under-19s? How many of them have seen the squads opposition? Also please remember that Sbragia could only name an 18 man pool not 23 or 25.

Take it on a few steps and look at Gordon Strachan’s senior squad. It’s again based around a team philosophy and work ethic. The traits of physicality and hard working are ones that Scotland use.

Just because a boy is playing at Real Madrid for their youth team doesn’t mean he should automatically be selected for every Scottish side. Listen the odds of him succeeding at the Bernabeu are stacked against him, especially in the free role he seems to favour. Letting him concentrate on Real isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Now others have pointed out that Jack was born is Spain and that he could easily change allegiances.

True. But even if he was selected for these games Jack could still choose Spain further down the line. So should we just pick him for the competitive senior side that face Gibraltar on Sunday?

Of course not! If the boy takes the hump because he hasn’t been selected by one coach for a set of games, then do we really care if he plays for Spain instead of Scotland?

As long as there is dialogue between the SFA and Harper, I don’t see what the issue is.

We hired a very good coach to do a job. Let’s leave Ricky Sbragia to do that.

Hopefully in a few years time, Jack Harper is wearing a Scotland shirt and do wonderful things in it. But please don’t overhype him because you’ve seen him on your Football Manager game or because you have read about him playing for the Real youth team on a website.

Only judge him when he’s ready and you’ve seen him doing his stuff on a football park.

We constantly celebrate players before their time; Islam Feruz and John Fleck spring to mind. Let’s give Jack Harper time to show everyone what he can do.

Why England Wont Win Euro 2016

FA-England

It’s international week and our focus is back on Euro 2016 qualification as UEFA’s federations all compete to get reach the tournament in France next year!

In recent weeks new Aston Villa boss Tim Sherwood has made a bold prediction when discussing England’s chances of competing at next years European Championships.

He stated…

“Roy will stumble across a team that will win the Euros. He will, I tell you. They will win it.”

Now that sums up Sherwood, he brims with confidence and is always there for a positive soundbite. But he also goes a bit too far.

For the life of me I just can’t see England doing it next year. Given a bit of luck I don’t see why they couldn’t get to the semi-final stage but alternatively given some bad luck they could fall at the group stages.

Look at last summers World Cup. England finished bottom of their group and only managed a single point in a dull nil-nil encounter with Costa Rica.

Has enough changed since that tournament to suggest they are now able to compete with the likes of Germany, France, Italy, Spain or the Dutch?

England will have a decent squad, they always do. But do they have any players of top pedigree?

Joe Hart on his day perhaps. Wayne Rooney is still waiting for that ultimate international tournament. Arsenal players like Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain have a poor record of injuries.

I’ve still to be convinced that Roy Hodgson is capable of managing a squad to international glory.

Not enough of England’s best teams play a good share of homegrown players, Chelsea and Manchester City in particular. That suggests that they probably aren’t good enough for the really important games.

This season has seen English sides again under perform in Europe.

But for me, there is a reason above all that that will see England come unstuck in any big tournament like the Euros and that’s because they lack a world-class centre half.

The Chris Smalling and Phil Jones partnership was meant to have taken off by now, yet it hasn’t. Yes they have had a few decent outings for Manchester United in the last couple of weeks but even against Liverpool they were vulnerable at times.

Gary Cahill is better when he’s partnered beside John Terry at Chelsea. He doesn’t have that luxury at international level and I doubt Terry will come out of international retirement to play for the ‘Three Lions’ again.

Phil Jagielka is a decent pro but he isn’t great and seems to be found wanting during important fixtures for club or country. His Everton colleague John Stones is still learning his trade, he’d need a full season at centre-back to be ready for a huge tournament like the Euros.

I doubt anyone in the Under-21s will come into the reckoning in time for June 2016.

Germany at the World Cup last year had Mats Hummels who was one of the players of the tournament.

In Euro 2012, current champions Spain only conceded one goal in the whole tournament. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique were paramount in that success even if everyone was fawning over Andres Iniesta.

England are still soft in the central defence area and they struggle to keep out the best strikers. That will be their greatest downfall when they try and challenge for the ‘Henri Delaunay Trophy’ next summer.

Top Tips For Placing A Bet On The Football

Dutch Football

Top Tips For Placing A Bet On The Football

We’ve all seen those punter mates of ours who head out the game and manage to walk away with more money than they left with – and it’s all thanks to a well-placed bet or two reaping the cash. These guys and girls probably don’t have magical powers and certainly don’t have the ability to see into the future, but they probably know a thing or two about how to manipulate the odds to get the best possible outcome for themselves when they’re placing a wee bet or two. If you want to beat the bookies then you’ve got to know the fundamentals of betting on the football – and that means knowing how and when (and what) to bet.

Team Form – Take a Good Look

Have a look at the most recent form and have a look at who they played against. Look at what the opposition were playing like at the last game. If you can, read the recent match reports and try and figure out if a win or loss was due to something external, like the opposition’s goal keeper having a particularly excellent match, or if the referee was particularly biased. If you can figure out how the team was playing and if there was anything external relating to their performance this can help you to place a more balanced and measured bet.

Examine Both The Home and The Away Records

Some teams play better on their home turf – it’s just how it goes. Some other teams perform much better when playing away, and will deliver a serious ass-kicking when the pressure is on! Have a look at any of the weather stats as well for the game, and find out if there was anything mitigating the possible wins or losses for each of the teams.

Examine The History

Have a look at the history for some clubs that play head to head. Sometimes you will find that history really repeats itself – and you may find that the club that you’re betting on always takes a loss each second year – there are some patterns that if they’ve gone on for long enough, will possible repeat again and again!

Get On The News – For Your Team!

Take a good look at injuries and suspensions if there are any and find out what is happening with the other team too. It might happen that a star player is out for a couple of matches, and as such you can make guesses accordingly! You also need to find out how good the players are who might be filling in, and then figure out what is the possible outcome from there.

End Of Season, Or Just Starting?

Motivation is very important, especially when things are wrapping up for the season or just getting started. It may be that your team has a new player or two and may take a couple of matches to get their stuff together. It might also be the case that your team is fatigued after a big season and really feeling some injuries or other issues. Take a look at what they’re playing for, what their motivation might be, and then adjust your strategy accordingly!

What’s Their Schedule Like?

Take a look at what they’re playing for, what they have just played and what their schedule has been like in the past few weeks or days. If they’re tired after a big match on the weekend and have a smaller and unimportant match to play mid week, then it might be the case that their motivation might be flagging a little. Before you place a Lux Bet make sure that you know what’s going on.